«Succeed Here and in Eternity»

The Prosperity Gospel in Ghana

by Wilfred Asampambila Agana (Author)
©2016 Monographs XVI, 363 Pages


This book presents a qualitative study of the «Gospel of Prosperity» preached by the Charismatic and Neo-Pentecostal churches in Ghana, with a particular focus on its soteriological significance. The author explores the concept of the Gospel of Prosperity from a number of different angles, surveying its historical and ideological background, analysing its specific context in a Ghanaian environment and, finally, looking at its theological and soteriological relevance, compared with classical Christian teaching and especially Catholic systematic teaching. The theological investigation carried out here reveals both divergences and convergences, demonstrating areas where the Catholic tradition is challenged by the Gospel of Prosperity as well as vice versa. This analysis of the strengths and weaknesses within both traditions constitutes a springboard for a possible dialogue and access to common ground. Such a dialogue should be of great interest not only because of its significance for theological scholarship, but also because of the practical influence it could have on the lives of Christians, both in Ghana and elsewhere in the West African subregion.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Foreword by Allan H. Anderson
  • Chapter 1: The Fruit of Personal and Pastoral Experiences
  • The Current Position of Christianity in the World
  • Filling in the Gaps – The Motivation and Goals of this Book
  • Methodology
  • The Summons of the Church
  • A Bird’s Eye View
  • Chapter 2: The Phenomenon of the Prosperity Gospel
  • Terminologies and Concepts
  • The Subject Matter of the Prosperity Gospel
  • Practices Inspired by the Prosperity Gospel
  • The Roots of the Prosperity Gospel
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 3: The Ghanaian Context and the Prosperity Gospel
  • A Fertile Ground for the Prosperity Gospel?
  • The Ghanaian Society of Today
  • Challenges for the Present Ghanaian Society
  • The Traditional Ghanaian Notion of Salvation
  • Constituents of Salvation from a Traditional Ghanaian Perspective
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 4: Manifestations of the Prosperity Gospel in Ghana
  • The Prosperity Gospel in the Beliefs and Teachings of Neo-Pentecostal Churches in Ghana
  • The Prosperity Gospel in Actions
  • The Prosperity Gospel in Signs and Symbols
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 5: The Soteriological Implications of the Prosperity Gospel
  • Redemption from the Point of View of the Prosperity Gospel
  • The Legitimacy of the Prosperity Gospel
  • A Clash of Two Soteriologies: The Prosperity Gospel as a Challenge to Catholic Systematic Soteriology
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 6: Facing the Consequences
  • References
  • General Index
  • Index of Bible Passages
  • Series index

← viii | ix →


The successful conclusion of my PhD thesis, culminating in the publication of this revised version in book form, has only been made possible by the support of a number of people.

Foremost, I wish to thank the Diocese of Münster in the persons of Auxiliary Bishops Friedrich Ostermann (retired) and Stefan Zekorn for sponsoring a significant portion of this project, and the bishops of the Archdiocese of Tamale, Ghana, Gregory Kpiebaya (retired) and Philip Naameh, for facilitating the project.

I also thank my academic supervisors Dorothea Sattler and Margit Eckholt for their valuable mentoring role during the research stage.

In particular, I wish to register my gratitude to the following persons for their support in editing and proofreading various versions of the text at various phases: Maria Borken, Erika Eichholzer, Claudia Maria Korsmeier and Kofi Ron Lange.

I am also grateful to the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Christlicher Kirchen in Deutschland and the Deutscher Ökumenischer Studienausschuss (DÖSTA) who through their Ecumenical Research Fund (Ökumenischer Forschungsfonds) have part-financed the publication of this work.

My thanks go also to the team at Peter Lang for their help, especially Christabel Scaife for her useful interventions.

Last but not least, I wish to express my thanks to all and sundry who have contributed in various ways to the realization of this work. ← ix | x →

← x | xi →


I am delighted to write a foreword to this comprehensive study on the Prosperity Gospel in Ghana, and much of what Wilfred Agana has written in this fine book applies to the whole of the African continent. To look for the origins of this doctrine one need look no further than to Pentecostalism, out of which it grew and where its most prominent African exponents are found. The expansion of Pentecostalism in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries in Africa can be attributed, at least partially, to cultural as well as religious factors. German sociologist Max Weber, as Agana points out in his opening chapter, thought that religion on the whole, and Protestantism in particular, indirectly enforced and justified existing wealth and power structures in society. His thesis was that Protestantism encourages thrift, strict morality and hard work, and therefore results in economic improvement and supports social stratification, although this result was unintentional. The question here is to what extent Pentecostalism has engendered this “Protestant ethic” in Africa, especially through the widespread Prosperity Gospel by which a success ethic of new entrepreneurial activity and voluntary association are intentionally promoted, and consumerism and materialism are seen as spiritual virtues. As Amos Yong argues, the rise of “prosperity Pentecostalism” in the Majority World has brought about an embrace of the global market economy and its hedonistic consumption, and “successful and victorious Christian living is now measured by Western economic standards”.1

There have been advocates for and against the “Protestant ethic” position, and the evidence is inconclusive. Weber’s prediction that capitalism would develop its own secular autonomy without religious involvement has not been proven and certainly does not apply in the case of Pentecostalism. ← xi | xii → Nevertheless, there has been a surge of interest in the role of Pentecostalism in economics and development. In Africa, religious associations are the most common and prolific forms of social life, and Pentecostal groups there and elsewhere seek to develop whole, self-sustaining communities. Paul Gifford claims that African Pentecostalism is predominantly focussed on success, victory and wealth, promoting unbridled consumerism and a distorted theology where even the substitutionary work of Christ is subsumed under the ability to achieve wealth and success.2 But there is also a positive side, as Shaull and Cesar point out in the Latin American context, for Pentecostalism “may have found a way of overcoming the day-to-day hazards of the poor” and is “an important source for social transformation, especially among poor and marginalized people”.3 It may be that with its positive message of not accepting the status quo but striving for improvement in life, these forms of Pentecostalism have struck at the psychological heart of poor societies. Sometimes, the message is applied to a much wider society, and what Dena Freeman calls “a radical new conception of development” advocates God’s will as being “a continent [Africa] blessed with health, wealth and abundance, where people work hard, pray hard and live upright moral lives”.4 Often, the means to this end is through spiritual warfare against the demons of poverty and oppression, rather than by direct engagement with the social structures that perpetuate poverty. Nevertheless, Pentecostal communities sometimes succeed where international NGOs have failed to transform poverty-ridden societies, and in some cases they closely resemble NGOs themselves – with the important differences that they are much more part and parcel of local communities than the usually externally-funded and secular NGOs are, and they focus on individual rather than structural transformation. ← xii | xiii →

Weber’s central thought was that Protestantism motivated new economic behaviour and changed values. Pentecostalism does this too and therefore stimulates neoliberal capitalism and development in places like Africa, creating upward social mobility and giving moral legitimation to capitalistic success. Yong suggests that Pentecostalism succeeds “because it promotes values that enable transition into and survival within the market economy”. It serves as “an alternative system of economics” by providing new social and economic support bases, especially for those communities uprooted through migration from rural to urban areas or from the global South to the North.5 There is a certain ambiguity about this position in light of realities of global poverty, although Pentecostalism’s promotion of hard work for reward, a disciplined and ethical lifestyle, and its bringing about social empowerment for marginalized communities are certainly commendable features. But searching questions remain about the lavishly affluent lifestyles of Pentecostal leaders in the midst of dire poverty and their dubious fund-raising techniques. Believers may not get rich, but sacrificially give the little they have to the church in anticipation of financial reward.

Although Pentecostals have traditionally been world-denying sectarians whose emphasis has been on creating an alternative society in contrast to “worldly” social practices and values, some scholars have discussed the inherent strength of Pentecostalism for social transformation.6 The emphasis on “freedom in the Spirit” has rendered Pentecostalism inherently flexible in different cultural and social contexts worldwide, so that the transplanting of its central tenets is more easily achieved. Older churches like the Catholic Church arose in western contexts of written liturgies, set theologies, highly educated and professional clergy, and church structures with strongly centralized control. This sometimes contributed to Africans feeling that the churches were “foreign” and that people first had to become westerners before becoming Christians. In contrast, the Pentecostal emphasis on immediate personal experience of God’s power by the Spirit was more intuitive and emotional, and it recognized charismatic leadership and ← xiii | xiv → indigenous church patterns wherever they arose. Preaching a message that promised solutions for present felt needs like sickness, poverty and the fear of evil spirits, the message of Pentecostal preachers was readily accepted by ordinary people. Churches were rapidly planted in African cultures, and Africa took on its own, different expressions of Pentecostalism.

Today we see this message of prosperity and health promoted throughout Africa. Harvey Cox suggests that for any religion to grow today, it must demonstrate two vitally important and underlying capabilities. First, the religion “must be able to include and transform at least certain elements of preexisting religions which still retain a strong grip on the cultural subconscious”. Secondly, “it must also equip people to live in rapidly changing societies”. He finds these two “key ingredients” in Pentecostalism.7 Africans are in constant interaction with the spirit world, western culture and the Christian message. When assessing the Prosperity Gospel it is also necessary to notice parallels with popular African religions and cultures in their practices, and in some cases these ideas are also continuous with the biblical revelation, especially in the Old Testament. However, many of the contemporary protagonists of prosperity might need a greater appreciation for the rich diversity of their cultural and religious past and not feel the need to bow to the cultural hegemony of western Christianity. Demonizing the African cultural and religious past does not help explain either the present attraction of Pentecostalism for African peoples or those features which are in continuity with that past, even though it might sometimes help promote African Pentecostals in the religious competition that is a feature of pluralist societies today.

African Pentecostals have found, in their own context, both culturally and biblically acceptable alternatives to and adaptations from the practices of their ancient religions, and they are seeking to provide answers to the needs inherent there. Any religion that does not offer at least the same benefits as the old religion does will probably be unattractive. Christianity, particularly in its emphasis on the transforming power of the Spirit, purports ← xiv | xv → to offer more than the pre-Christian religions did. The Pentecostals and Charismatics have grown so rapidly in Africa because they have proclaimed a holistic gospel of salvation that includes deliverance from all types of evil oppression like sickness, barrenness, sorcery, evil spirits, unemployment and poverty. This message may not always have engaged effectively with the more structurally oppressive political and economic monopolies, but the needs of people have been addressed more fundamentally than by the rather spiritualized and intellectualized legacy of western theology. African preachers declare the good news that God meets all the needs of people, including their spiritual salvation, physical healing and other material necessities. The phenomena of mass urbanization and immigration results in these proliferating new churches providing places of spiritual security and personal communities for people unsettled by rapid social change. The more relevant the church becomes to its cultural and social context, the more prepared it will be to serve the wider society.

Whenever Christianity, unencumbered by its various cultural expressions, encounters another living religion as it does in Africa, a transformation takes place in both directions. The Christian message challenges, confronts and changes whatever seems incongruous or inadequate in African religions, and African religions transform and enrich the Christian message so that it is understandable and relevant. And so the Christian message becomes more appropriate and comprehensible to both those to whom it is proclaimed and those who proclaim it. At the same time, the Christian community throughout the world discovers new depths in its message that it would not have discovered except for this encounter with African religions. Churches encounter African religions and provide answers to a host of perplexing questions that seem inherent there.

It might be appropriate, finally, to repeat a word of caution sounded in the first book I ever published.8 If there is a criticism often justifiably leveled at Pentecostalism as a whole and in its Prosperity Gospel in particular, it is that they have sometimes expounded a theology of success and power ← xv | xvi → at the expense of a theology of the cross. This is particularly true of the popular western fringes of the Pentecostal movement where emphasis is placed on “health and wealth” through faith in God. But at the same time this crude form of American Pentecostalism needs to be separated from its African counterpart, and this is what this book does. The emergence of the Prosperity Gospel in Ghana and in many parts of the world at the end of the twentieth century indicates that there are unresolved questions facing the church that need adequate answers. One of the greatest needs of Africa is found in its economic deprivation. But there are not always instant solutions to life’s ups and downs. Spirituality is not to be measured merely in terms of success. People are not only convinced by the triumphs of Christianity but also by its trials. The history of the church in Africa is clear evidence of that. The Spirit is not only a Spirit of power and miracles, signs and wonders, health and prosperity. The Spirit is also a gentle dove, a Spirit of humility, patience and meekness, of love, joy and peace. The Spirit is the tender Comforter, the one who comes alongside to help and strengthen us whenever we encounter trials and problems. This comforting ministry of the Spirit also needs to be emphasized in a world plagued with famine, poverty, economic and political oppression and disease. Overemphasizing the power of the Spirit in terms of outward success often leads to bitter disappointment and disillusionment when that power is not evidently and immediately manifested. Christianity must not only provide power when there is a lack of it – it must also be able to sustain through life’s tragedies and failures, especially when there is no visible success.

Allan H. Anderson
Professor of Mission and Pentecostal Studies
University of Birmingham, UK ← xvi | 1 →

1 Amos Yong, In the Days of Caesar: Pentecostalism and Political Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010), 19.

2 Paul Gifford, Christianity, Politics and Public Life in Kenya (London: Hurst, 2009), 150–1.

3 Richard Shaull & Waldo Cesar, Pentecostalism and the Future of the Christian Churches: Promises, Limitations, Challenges (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000), 21, 227.

4 Dena Freeman, ed., Pentecostalism and Development: Churches, NGOs and Social Change in Africa (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 2, 14–17, 20, 25.

5 Yong, Days of Caesar, 21, 23.

6 Allan H. Anderson, An Introduction to Pentecostalism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 278–82.

7 Harvey Cox, Fire from Heaven: The Rise of Pentecostal Spirituality and the Reshaping of Religion in the 21st Century (London: Cassell, 1995), 219.

8 Allan H. Anderson, Moya: The Holy Spirit in an African Context (Pretoria: Unisa Press, 1991), 72–3.

← xvi | 1 →


The Fruit of Personal and Pastoral Experiences

This book is a qualitative study of the Prosperity Gospel (or the Gospel of Prosperity)1 and its soteriological significance with respect to the Charismatic/Neo-Pentecostal Churches in Ghana. The motivation for this study comes first and foremost from my pastoral experiences with the Prosperity Gospel and secondly, as a response to the Church’s2 call, and to the prevailing world situation of Christianity.

The Prosperity Gospel is a phenomenon I have had to confront now and then in my pastoral work as a Catholic priest since my ordination in 1999. Two particular instances are worth mentioning here. From September 2004 to September 2007 I was appointed curate of the St. Kizito’s Catholic Parish of the Catholic Archdiocese of Tamale located in Kpandae, a district of the Northern Region of Ghana. Upon my arrival in St. Kizito’s Parish after my appointment, the parish priest whom I was to assist briefed me about the pastoral situation of the parish. One of the issues he informed me about was the fact that he had suspended common and inter-church programmes and relations with “our sister churches”3 indefinitely, because he had realized that “the Charismatic Churches steal our parishioners”. Upon further enquiries he explained that a good number of his parishioners had left and joined the Charismatic Churches in search of miracles in the form of healing and economic betterment, among other things. He ← 1 | 2 → intended to first form a formidable Catholic Charismatic Renewal Group in the parish before considering resuming inter-church contact with the Charismatic Churches.

I also observed, within a few months after taking post in St. Kizito’s Parish, that the Kpandae District in which this parish was located was dotted with “prayer camps” that became resorts for people praying to gain health, to overcome economic and social ailments and to meet other challenges in life. I also noticed that some parishioners of the St. Kizito’s Catholic Parish were among those who associated themselves with these prayer camps, benefiting from their services.

My second encounter with the Prosperity Gospel in the context of my pastoral work was when I was appointed parish priest of Saints Peter and Paul Parish in the Archdiocese of Tamale. I took over the parish and was immediately informed that one of the leaders of the parish was sick. Within a few days he passed away and, at the instruction of the archdiocese, he was denied a befitting Catholic burial. The reason given for this decision was that he had left the Church and all efforts to bring him back failed before he died. This was a bitter experience for the parish, the family and me, in fact for the whole diocese. The background is that the said parishioner fell seriously ill for a prolonged period of time. The immediate family attributed the sickness to a spiritual source that could not be healed in the hospital or clinic. He was then conveyed to a prophetess and spiritual healer who operated a charismatic prayer and healing ministry in a forest located in the Tamale Municipality.

These two experiences, among others, raised questions in my mind as to why the message presented by these pastors of the Charismatic Churches/Neo-Pentecostal Churches was a source of attraction for our people. What was the substance of the message of these churches that appealed to the people? How is it related to the message of salvation presented by Christ in the Scriptures? What was its genesis and was it an authentic source of salvation for the people?4 ← 2 | 3 →

The personal pastoral experiences narrated above are not isolated cases, as other colleagues have had similar experiences, confirming the findings of a survey in 1988 conducted among forty-four churches and sects in the Tamale Municipality.5

The Current Position of Christianity in the World

The situation described above is not just an affair of the church in Africa, nor a situation unique to Africa. It is a phenomenon of global character and has also now attracted due attention. For instance from 1–2 February 2013, I was privileged to participate in The 7th International and Interdisciplinary Conference of the European Research Network on Global Pentecostalism. The conference, which attracted over ninety participants from seventeen countries to Heidelberg, had as its theme “Pentecostalism and Politics” and concerned itself with what it described as the “urgent and controversial issue connected to the rise of Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity worldwide.”6

Already by the 1990s the situation had caught the attention of the German Catholic Church and so the Commission of Missiology of the German Bishops’ Conference was assigned in 1990 to investigate ← 3 | 4 → the phenomenon of the new religious movements in a long term research project. Following an intensive literature review of the state of affairs of these Christian “sects” and new religious movements in Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and Asia, a detailed and deeper research was carried out in Costa Rica for Latin America, the Philippines for Asia, the Republic of South Africa for Africa, and Hungary for Eastern Europe. From 9–11 April 2013, and under the patronage of Cardinal Kurt Koch, the German Bishops’ Conference organized an international conference in Rome, under the theme “Evangelicals–Pentecostals–Charismatics, New Religious Movements as Challenge for the Catholic Church”, to present and discuss the findings of the research project. The aim of the conference was also to develop concrete orientations for action and pastoral concepts for those local churches which are particularly affected by the phenomenon of the new religious movements. Addressing the conference, Karl Gabriel from the University of Münster underscored the tremendous challenge to the Catholic Church and beyond in the following words:


XVI, 363
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2015 (December)
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2016. XVI, 364 pp.

Biographical notes

Wilfred Asampambila Agana (Author)

Wilfred Asampambila Agana is a Catholic priest of the archdiocese of Tamale in Northern Ghana. He trained at the St Victor Major Seminary in Tamale and also earned a Diploma in Religions from the University of Ghana in Legon. He later undertook ecumenical studies at Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster in Germany, where he was awarded a PhD in theology.


Title: «Succeed Here and in Eternity»
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